Sarah Spellings & The Followers of The Grove

The Followers of The Grove

Purple and white crocuses polka-dotted the meadow at Sassamatta. A wind blew from the northwest, down snow-capped mountains, across the ocean inlet, and into the tall trees of the grove. The air was cool and clean. Small white butterflies fluttered aimlessly amid green blades of grass. The early spring sky was a shy, pale blue. Insects buzzed contentedly, and birds trilled from branches. Far above the clearing, a classical guitar arpeggio rolled out a treehouse doorway. Mateo was practicing, his legs dangling in space.

Bubbly laughter carried up from the lake. Murdock was teaching Sammy and Tony how to fish. Sammy’s giggle was infectious, and lying on her back in the meadow, Sarah grinned. Quinn sat beside her, whittling. Curls of shaved wood tumbled onto the grass.

“What are you carving?” Sarah asked. She closed her eyes and listened to the soft shwick shwick of Quinn’s knife.

“Hair combs,” Quinn answered. “For you and Levvy. If there’s enough wood I’ll make one for Song, too. It’s cherry. Doug harvested it from an old orchard on Burnubbee Mountain.”

Sarah squinted through her eyelashes. The sun shone through Quinn’s light blonde hair. He had just come home from visiting the new grove at Burnubbee Mountain, where he’d established a hive of hunaja bees. He had exciting news he was waiting to share. Sarah pushed herself up to sitting, her eyes adjusting slowly to the brilliance of the day.

“There you are.” Levvy emerged from the treeline, and strode to where Sarah and Quinn were relaxing in the sun. She looked distracted.

Quinn glanced up. “Where’s your toque?”

Levvy rumpled her stringy hair self-consciously.

“It’s too warm today. My head felt suffocated,” Levvy pulled a notebook from her satchel. “I’ve been doing some calculations. I think we can increase the yield of our gardens without expanding them. We aren’t taking advantage of the vertical potential in the main garden. We have twice the people to feed we did last year, so we need to maximize the garden’s productivity, without wasting effort on breaking new ground.”

“But why not expand the garden?” Sarah asked. “There’s more mouths to feed, but also more hands to dig and plant. Your parents can teach the new followers.”

Levvy snorted. “Mom and Dad are way too busy with the new grove to teach here.”

“Do you miss them?” Sarah fiddled with her locket as she spoke, thinking of her mother. The subject of Sarah’s family was fraught. The grove liked to gossip about Harpminster Abbott, quickly changing the subject when Sarah was around. There was plenty of speculation about her uncle’s ability to sow despair. He had become a bogeyman, a mysterious source of evil. He might be hiding nearby, people said, or planning another incursion. Her uncle had tainted Sarah’s feelings about her own special powers, and these days she called on them reluctantly.

Quinn interrupted. “Okay, this is what I’ve been waiting to tell you. Levvy’s parents are starting a Grove School. Kids from Vancouver schools are going to come here to learn how we live in the trees, and grow our own food.”

“Good for them,” said Levvy, and Sarah put a hand on her friend’s shoulder. Levvy’s parents gave her freedom, but that wasn’t always the boon Sarah had thought it was.

“I guess the more kids who live in groves, the better,” said Sarah. “Anyway we could use the help, especially after that last storm.” Quinn and Levvy nodded in agreement.

In early March, another violent storm had ripped through Vancouver. Gardens had been flooded, and solar panels destroyed by high-velocity winds. Storehouses of grains and other provisions had been smashed by falling trees. The Followers of the Grove had weathered the storm, then gone to Vancouver to help their neighbours.

“Let’s go tell Spex about the school,” said Sarah.

The three friends made their way to a big maple tree. In the shade, a table was inlaid with brown and beige checks, and a hand-carved set of chess pieces was set for a game that had just begun. Pawns were squirrels. The King and Queen were bears standing on their hind legs. Bishops were eagles, knights were deer, and the rooks were frogs. Spex Gribble sat on a low tree-stump chair, his feet hovering. Beside him sat the hulking figures of Hanx and Trig, in white tunics and flowing trousers. Spex’s bent spectacles were smudged with fingerprints. He pushed them up the bridge of his nose.

“Trig, my good fellow. I implore you to apply your utmost attention to the diversion at hand,” said Spex. “A knight moves in an ‘L’ shape, in any direction. Two squares out and one to the side, as so.” Spex demonstrated.

“That’s a deer,” Hanx interjected.”You told us it was a knightbefore. No wonder we’re confused.”

Spex inserted both of his hands into his beard and tugged. “Gentlemen, gentlemen. Your first lesson consisted solely of learning the proper, historic names of the chess pieces.” Hanx and Trig wore identical blank expressions, and Spex sighed. “Perhaps some revision, then. Does anyone remember what this piece is called? It is the most numerous of all the chess pieces, and its life is the most expendable.” Spex raised a hopeful bushy eyebrow.

“Pong! It’s a pong!” shouted Hanx triumphantly.

“Hey guys,” said Sarah.

“Hullo Sarah,” said Hanx and Trig in unison, smiling brightly.

“Greetings,” said Spex wearily. “Have you come to offer some respite company, or merely to amuse yourselves?”

“Neither,” Sarah answered with a laugh. “We have some news.”

“Ah! From your expressions, I deduce you bring glad tidings?”

Quinn told Spex about the Grove School. Spex blinked for a moment, and then began to wriggle with excitement. His belly nudged the table. Chess pieces toppled, wrecking the game. Unconcerned, Spex hopped off his tree stump and wobbled in glee, clapping his hands.

“Such excellent tidings! In fact, this is an occasion calling for momentous recognition, in the form of a feast. Come, let us make a request of our culinary experts.” Spex hurried away, leaving Hanx and Trig to puzzle out re-setting the chess pieces.

They followed Spex as he wobbled toward the kitchen shelter. In the kitchen, two figures were peeling carrots beside a massive black cauldron. A rock wall with ledges at various heights held pots and pans, mismatched dishes, metal containers of dried goods, satchels of dried spices, and jars crammed with kitchen tools. Thin curls of smoke issued from a low stone fireplace, over which another cauldron steamed. Sarah sniffed, a deep, appreciative inhale.

“What’s today’s tea?” asked Sarah.

“Oh, it’s heavenly,” said Levvy. “Rosehip spice.”

The carrot peelers were a tall man with a sneer, and a short, chubby man with a full black beard.

“Breakfast is all cleaned up. There’s nothing for you, until soup is served at lunch,” said the taller of the two disdainfully.

“Oh, Ichamus. Don’t be so hard-nosed,” said Pietro, the shorter man, his apron splotched with stains. “There are biscuits in the covered basket, and dried apples in the hammocks, the same snack food we usually have available.”

“Oh, fine,” Ichamus sneered. “It’s fine for you, Pietro. You waltz off to the garden every morning. You don’t have to stand around here, filling the empty stomach of every lazy-pants who rolls out of bed whenever they please.”

A lithe figure swung down gracefully from the trees, and landed like a cat, beside the cooks. Fern Phractle expertly looped a rope, hung it on a nearby branch, and confronted Ichamus.

“No one’s forcing you to work in the kitchen. There are plenty of jobs at Sassamatta. Now stop arguing, or you’ll spoil the food with your negative energy.” Fern winked at Sarah.

Sarah grinned, and listened as Spex shared the Grove School news.

“An occasion for a grand feast, wouldn’t you say, my good fellows?” Spex rubbed his palms on his belly.

“Anything counts as an occasion for a grand feast, in your opinion,” said Ichamus. “Yesterday you suggested a grand feast to honour the first butterflies of spring. Last week, you thought Tony’s first bicycle excursion warranted a grand feast. You sneeze, and ask for a…”

“Oh, hush, Ichamus,” said Fern. “You’re exaggerating. This is an occasion for a grand feast, and everyone will help prepare it.”

Rumpus tore into the clearing, barking happily. He bounded into the kitchen shelter.

“How many times must I repeat myself? No dogs in the kitchen!” whined Ichamus, eyeing Rumpus fearfully.

Sammy, Tony and Murdock came up from the lake. Murdock was hefting a basket, and inside it Sarah could see the glistening sides of freshly-caught trout.

“How’s the fishing?” Sarah asked.

“They were only biting for eight-year-old boys today,” Tony said.

“You caught one,” said Sammy seriously. “Murdock showed me how to play the line. You’ll catch more next time, Dad.”

“Thanks,” Tony said, and he fist-pounded with Sammy. The fishermen took turns dipping wooden ladles in a barrel full of cool water and drinking. Water spilled across their cheeks, and ran down their chins. Sarah told them about the Grove School.

“Sammy could go to the Grove School,” Sarah said quietly to her father.

“What for? He learns about living in a grove all day, every day. The kid’s an expert.”

“It would be good for him to hang out with kids his own age,” said Sarah. “I bet he’s tired of being the only person under ten at Sassamatta.”

Sarah’s father shrugged, and looked uncomfortable. He had stuck close to Sammy since Christmas. Sarah had mostly forgiven her father for keeping ther Abbott-family past a secret, and for hiding his plan to subvert the Parleyment Army’s invasion. He had been trying to protect her, he insisted, and he had promised to communicate better. But he was still secretive. Sarah often caught him watching Sammy intensely, as if the boy were under a microscope.

“Dad, you’re helicopter parenting. Sammy’s going to be okay.”

“Mmmm,” Tony Spellings said, clearly not sure this was true.

A honeybee buzzed into the kitchen, investigated a few jars, and zipped away. Sammy ran off with Murdock for a bike ride.

“Let’s go check the hives,” said Quinn.

“Is that code for let’s go nap in the meadow?” Levvy smirked.

“Absolutely not. There are seven new hives. I need to make sure there’s a healthy queen in all of them.” Quinn heaved an exaggerated sigh. “It’s too much work for me alone.”

They strolled through the grove, underneath the expanding network of rope bridges. Leaving the clearing, they picked their way through the forest, treading carefully. The trees opened up, and they entered a meadow full of flowers and buzzing. Sarah could see thousands of honeybees, travelling to and from the sunny corner where the hives were hidden in tall grass. She bent over, and picked a sprig of green leaves and white flowers. Holding it in her cupped hands, the white flowers folded in on themselves, formed heart-shaped masses, and swelled, maturing into ripe, red strawberries. Sarah offered them to her friends.

“Blessings,” said Levvy, and she popped a strawberry in her mouth.

The End

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